Friday, June 13, 2008

Bendy writing

I'm in the middle of a script right now. A spec. So I can do bendy writing. It started off as a one hour pilot. I did my usual beat sheet, and after all this time I can tell to within half a dozen pages how long the script will be from the number and content of the beats.

But it never pans out that way. Not in a spec. See on a commission the page count is paramount. Maybe not so much in the early drafts but at shooting script most definitely. And you really don't want to be chopping 10 pages for the shooting script.

But as I'm writing the spec, well....... things occur to me. Scenes I had down as two pages can become four. Characters dictate different choices as you get to know them. The story becomes bigger or more twisty. Lots of reasons. And as this is a spec I'm just running with it. Because I don't think it hurts the story I'm writing. On the contrary. the story is dictating the length.

So with my bendy writing hat on, I'm nixing the idea of a one hour pilot and making it either a stand alone Two Parter or a two hour pilot.

Don't be afraid to be flexible. The story will tell you what the length should be and that isn't always apparent from the outset. For spec TV, Bendy writing is your friend! Because note that any producer now has two bites of the cherry when trying to sell to the networks. The pilot or the stand alone.


Anonymous said...

I like that your characters grow as you write - so much advice out there says how important exhaustive preparation is (which it is, of course, important and exhausting!), and yet I've found that it's only when I'm putting the words in their mouths that I truly get to know the characters and they can throw up all sorts of things.

Anyway, a question. Do you think there is much appetite for two hour pilots, then? It may be different for you as an established writer, but I can imagine a reader looking at those 120 pages wishing to God they were 60 plus a short outline of the next episode.

I've just had coverage from the pilot episode - actually, that should more correctly be described as episode one - of an eight-part serial, and the main problem was one of the reader being confused. It's an expansive story which requires quite a bit of set-up and writing a two-hour pilot would allow the story more room to breathe, but would it be welcome I wonder?

You don't tend to see many two hour pilots. OK, the Beeb just did one with the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, and to further confuse things the Last Enemy was 90 minutes.

English Dave said...

terraling - That's a good question and the answer is I don't know. But I think it gives the network a lot of options because of the scheduling flexibility and a 'suck it and see' approach to a future series. I have a self contained story over the two eps so it could even be a MOW type of thing. That seems to be different from yours where I'm assuming there is a long arc over the series.

I won't write both eps. I'll do a treatment and one ep.
The important thing is the sustainability and pace of the story. Too much set up with multiple characters and you risk losing your audience. I've seen a lot of two parters, especially on ITV, that really weren't. They were a heavilly padded 90 mins or less.
But yes exhaustive[ing] preparation
is part of my process. It gives me the confidence to launch into the script. Where the bending then begins!

Anonymous said...

'bendy writing'
I love that description. But I think you are also implying that there is a difference between flexable and chaotic.